August 1, 2006
New study on victim impact testimony
As detailed in this press release, a Minnesota public policy group known as WATCH has released an interesting new study about the impact of victim impact statements. WATCH descibes itself as "a volunteer-based court monitoring and research organization that follows cases of family and sexual violence and provides feedback to the justice system." And this executive summary of its new study explains that WATCH began its work "by asking to what extent victim impact statements affected or should affect sentencing decisions and acceptance of plea negotiations, particularly in domestic violence or sexual assault cases, and what features make an impact statement persuasive or memorable."
The full victim statement study from WATCH is available here. It concludes with a set of "specific recommendations for how to handle victim impact statements" and these closing sentiments:
Whether or not victim impact statements directly affect a sentence, they have value in the sentencing process. They may convey which treatment plans might work for a defendant, offer new information to a judge, educate the whole courtroom about the nature of crime, or affirm how the sentence will work best in stopping violence or rehabilitating an offender. Certainly victim impact statements may help a victim reach emotional closure, and they bring a human face into the courtroom. However, fear of the perpetrator or of the public setting of the courtroom, and distrust of the system might prevent a victim from writing or delivering an impact statement. A domestic violence victim might have a hard time achieving credibility, especially if she recants or pleads for mercy for her abuser. And to be persuasive, all victims may be challenged to distinguish their assault from the "average" assault and to give a balanced but detailed account of the effects of the crime on their lives. Judges, however, as we observed and as advocates convey, can help empower victims by being aware of the dynamics of their courtrooms and their own judicial demeanor.
Some related posts on victims' rights at sentencing:
Around the blogosphere
A little time for late-night touring turns up these interesting items in the blogosphere:
- The cursory approach to reasonableness review in the Ebbers decision (basics here) prompts interesting commentary at the White Collar Crime Prof Blog and at Conglomerate.
- Grits for Breakfast here examines the prison reform problems in California.
- The WSJ Law Blog discusses here the role of victims in some Enron sentencings.
- Folks at the Southern District of Florida Blog complain astutuely here and here about aspects of "Sentencing in Federal Land" and sentence enhancements based on acquitted cionduct.
July 31, 2006
Intriguing split Tenth Circuit ruling on plea agreements and sentencing
The Tenth Circuit today in United States vs. Scott, No. 05-6082 (10th Cir. July 31, 2006) (available here) concludes that the government its the plea agreement by making arguments to the district judge in support of a sentencing after failing to object to the presentence report. Judge Kelly dissents, and starts his opinion (which is longer than the majority opinion) with this paragraph:
The court holds that the government breached its plea agreement with Mr. Scott by discussing two sentencing enhancements after being specifically directed to do so by the district court. The court reasons that because no new facts were developed after the plea, the government was precluded from arguing any additional positions in favor of enhancements. Prop. Op. at 7. Because this reasoning is supported by neither the applicable law nor the record, I respectfully dissent.
Because Judge Kelly is the only "active" member of the panel (the judges in the majority are both on senior status), I would not be surprised to see this case get serious en banc consideration.
Colorado Supreme Court on parolee disenfranchisement
Though the Sentencing Project here provides comprehensive coverage of felony disenfranchisement issues, this post at TalkLeft spotlighted an interesting new ruling on parolee voting rights from Colorado. Here is the Colorado Supreme Court's own summary of its ruling in Danielson v. Dennis, No. 06SA174 (Colo. July 31, 2006) (available here):
The Colorado Supreme Court holds that the General Assembly did not violate article VII, section 10 of the Colorado Constitution by enacting a law that prevents a person who has been convicted of a felony and is serving a sentence of parole from voting or registering to vote. The intent of the constitutional phrase "full term of imprisonment" in article VII, section 10 is to restore an incarcerated person's full rights upon completion of the entire duration of his or her sentence, or upon a pardon from the Governor. A person who is serving a sentence of parole has not served his or her full term of imprisonment within the meaning of this constitutional provision. Appellants have not borne their burden of clearly demonstrating that section 12103( 4), C.R.S. (2005), is unconstitutional.
July 30, 2006
More buzz about record variance in Adelson
As detailed here last week, SDNY Judge Jed Rakoff has authored a detailed opinion to explain the extraordinary below-guideline sentence he gave to former Impath Inc. President, Richard Adelson. Because the sentence, and Judge Rakoff's opinion, are both remarkable, they continue to generate buzz.
Monday's New York Law Joural his this story about the case. Here is the lead: "A federal judge in New York has defended a non-guideline prison sentence for a former business executive convicted of conspiracy and securities fraud, saying to rule otherwise would be a 'travesty of justice'." And the Second Circuit Sentencing Blog has this extended post on Judge Rakoff's opinion, which concludes with some interesting speculations about how the government's appeal will likely fare.
- Huge downward variance in white-collar case
- Reflection on a (record?) variance
- Explaining a record variance
Strong coverage of law blogging
Thanks to this link from the Northwestern School of Law, everyone can access a strong new article on law blogging appearing The Chicago Lawyer. Titled "Law-Related Blogging Starting To See a Coming of Age," the article covers a lot of ground that should be of interest to many in the legal blogosphere. Here's a taste:
Lawyers who blog say the medium can offer several benefits in the practice and business of law. Many of them describe blogging as a mode of communication unlike any other, a 21st century style of networking....
Since lawyers read, write, analyze, and argue for a living, their leap into the blogosphere seems only natural. "A lot of them love writing and have a personality where they love to be heard. Lawyers are naturally going to be prolific in this area," said Dennis Crouch, of counsel at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff.
Crouch has reaped tangible benefits from his place in the blogosphere, which has helped jump-start his career. He attributes his newly acquired position at Boston University School of Law -- where he will teach patent law and computer law -- largely to the popularity of his own patent law blog, Patently-O. "It turned out that several professors at Boston University read this on a regular basis. They were very excited about having me come and be a part of the faculty. It was very magical," Crouch said.
Some related posts on law blogging:
Some lethal injection headlines
As the lethal injection scrummages rage on, here are some Sunday headlines:
- In Montana, as detailed here, the "legal wrangling over the scheduled execution of David Dawson 12 days from now is playing out against a national debate over whether lethal injection is, indeed, the most merciful way to impose the ultimate criminal punishment."
- In Missouri, as detailed here, the dyslexic doctor who had presided over lethal injections has been revealed as having been "sued for malpractice more than 20 times, by his own estimate, and was publicly reprimanded in 2003 by the state Board of Healing Arts for failing to disclose malpractice suits to a hospital where he was treating patients."